When sophisticated, rapid-fire dialogue is whizzing about the stage, mathematical and scientific principles are being dissected in the language of those who dissect them professionally, and the past is bleeding into the present, the question is not if, but when, your head will start to spin. Set in an English estate in both 1809 and present day, Tom Stoppard's exploration of the seeming dichotomies of chaos and order, science and art, head and heart, might err on the side of the cerebral — thrillingly yet too bewilderingly — if it weren't so ripe with the great equalizers: humor and sex. Director Barbara Schofield notes that the play's themes are all based on passion, and her staging arches its back toward reflecting such. Just as you begin to follow one of Stoppard's intricate, essential arguments down the intellectual rabbit hole, Schofield yanks you back by the gut. The logical Valentine (Paul Romero) casually posits the supremacy of science to Bernard (a combustible Benjamin Burdick), who preaches poetry in response; the scene immediately following, between T.J. Marchbank's smoldering Septimus and Kendra Chell's commanding Lady Croom, so pulses with lust restrained by the thinnest of threads, that when Septimus burns a letter, you feel helpless to stem the flush spreading throughout your own body. The cast is uniformly good, though the frequent shouting matches repeatedly reach a decibel level that quickly overwhelms such an intimate theater. Regardless that they skip so nimbly through the fascinating maze Stoppard's constructed is a relief, and reason enough to go. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru July 31. (626) 355-4318.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Starts: June 18. Continues through July 31, 2010
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